Shabbat Parashat Noach | 5764
The Corruption of SocietyHarav Yosef Carmel
[This d’var Torah, written in Hebrew, contains many linguistic nuances that cannot be translated. For further insight, see the original on our website www.eretzhemdah.org.]
The story of the mabul (Great Flood) is prefaced by an introduction to Noach and his family and a description of the corruption (hashchata) of the land, which stemmed from the corruption of “all flesh.” What exactly was the corruption, which brought on such calamity? We should also look for an explanation for the need to mention the birth of Noach’s children, after they were mentioned only a few p’sukim earlier at the end of Parashat Bereishit.
Examining Noach’s history from its beginning, we see that his very name foretold that “he shall console us from our actions and the sorrowful state of our hands from the land that Hashem cursed.” The Torah continues that Noach began his family at the age of 500. This was a very advanced age, even according to the long lives of those days. The Torah seems to leave Noach and go on to describe how the bnei elohim (the sons of the powerful) saw the girls of the land, and forcibly took for themselves whichever ones found favor in their eyes. If we take a look at the different elements that are before us, we receive the following picture.
While Noach did not immediately involve himself in procreation, the powerful people of the world did, but in a different manner, one which corrupted the world. Men at the top of the social structure abused their power by forcing themselves on young women (see Rambam, Melachim 4:4). This unacceptable tendency of man to try to satisfy all his base inclinations continued until people began taking married women and even “mating” with other men and animals (see Tanchuma, Bereishit 33). The midrash describes how, once the leaders allowed liberties for themselves and their families in these matters, all of society deteriorated to a point of “each man, as he sees fit in his eyes he does.” Once man was sexually corrupt, even the animal kingdom followed suit and started interbreeding.
The world had felt a glimmer of hope of reverting to an almost Gan Eden state with the birth of the modest Noach, who was capable of restoring some harmony between mankind and the land. Yet, it deteriorated to the point that their behavior caused its destruction. The same two-letter root, nach, comes up several times in the story of Noach and Hashem’s decision to destroy civilization. It is used to describe Hashem’s “regret” at creating man and the prospect of wiping all flesh off the face of the earth. On the other hand, Noach was different, as he found favor (chen- using the same two letters) in the eyes of Hashem.
While the favor that Noach found in Hashem’s eyes removed him from the decree of destruction that befell the rest of mankind, he was no longer able to carry out the dream of returning the world to the situation of Gan Eden. That would have to wait for a chosen nation to take hold of the Land of Cana’an from the sons of Cham, the corrupt son of Noach. When that nation will act according to its potential for holiness, the words of Yechezkel will be fulfilled that “the desolate land will be cultivated … and it will be like Gan Eden” (36: 34-35).
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